One of the Netherlands' oldest cities, Utrecht is often overlooked by visitors to the country who make a beeline for the likes of Amsterdam and Delft. However, it was thrust into the spotlight as it hosted the ‘Grand Depart’ on 4th July for this year’s Tour de France. The world-famous cycling race kicked off in Utrecht attracting spectators to the medieval and laidback student-filled city. Now that the cyclists have whizzed past en route to France there are plenty of reasons to hang around and find out what’s on offer in this charming city.
The Village Coffee & Music: Make your 'Grand Depart' of the day a stop at this hip cafe (thevillagecoffee.nl) for a brew of your choice to a soundtrack of great music.
Domtoren: Once you're fueled up, head to the Domtoren – the Netherlands' highest church tower – where incredible city views reward you for the punishing climb up 465 steps winding around narrow stairwells. Standing at 112m, the 14th-century cathedral took almost 300 years to complete. Opt for the guided tour for a deeper insight into the tower.
DOMunder: What goes up must come down... Once you've scaled the heights of the Domtoren, it's time to descend into the depths of the DOMunder (domunder.com) at Domplein (the square where the city was founded). Opened in 2014, this is an underground lair-esque sight recounting the 2000 years of Dutch history.
Sector 3: A great choice for a light lunch, Sector 3 (sector-3.nl) is housed in a former metal factory on Utrecht's oldest shopping street on the lower level lining the canal. Satisfy your sweet tooth afterwards with one of the famous apple dumplings along with a hot chocolate from beautiful cafe Graaf Floris (graaffloris.nl).
Centraal Museum: This museum has a large collection of art dating back to the 17th century, including some De Stijl paintings and the world’s most extensive Gerrit Rietveld collection. Admission includes entry to the Dick Bruna House, studio of the creator of Miffy, as well as entry to the Unesco-recognised house by Utrecht architect Gerrit Rietveld, Rietveld-Schröderhuis.
Museum Speelklok: Even if you're not the most musically-minded person, the Museum Speelklok is a delightful place to spend your afternoon. It has an interesting collection of musical machines dating back from the 18th century. Check out the ghost pianos and demonstrations of huge organs on the free guided tour, which runs on the hour, every hour and in English.
Karaf: A newcomer to Utrecht's dining scene, Karaf (restaurantkaraf.nl) gets top marks for the beautifully presented dishes served in its contemporary Dutch dining room.
Stumble over the finishing line of your Utrecht visit with a drink at any number of bars and cafes lining the The Oudegracht – Utrecht’s 'promenade' following the city’s main waterway. ’t Oude Pothuys is a favourite cosy pub located in a barrel-vaulted medieval cellar.
Where to stay
Mary K Hotel: Housed in an 18th century canal house, the Mary K boutique hotel offers cosy, medium and large rooms all decorated by a collaboration of Utrecht-based artists.
By air: The main international airport in the Netherlands is Schiphol in Amsterdam. Utrecht is easily reached by direct train from Schiphol airport in around 30 minutes.
By train: Utrecht Centraal station is the main hub. International trains connect Europe to Utrecht – including the high-speed Thayls to Paris and the ICE International to Cologne and Frankfurt in Germany. The Eurostar connects London to Brussels. From there you can transfer to a high-speed Thalys train for Amsterdam and change to a local train to Utrecht.
By ferry: Several car and passenger ferries operate between the UK and the Netherlands including P&O and Stena Line. Stena Line (stenaline.co.uk) sails from Harwich in the UK to Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands (from here you can reach Utrecht via Rotterdam on the train within 1 hour and 30 minutes) with day and overnight sailing options. 'Rail and Sail’ prices start from £45pp one way or £59pp with a car. Cabins (on overnight sailings) start from £20.50pp each way, based on two sharing.
Kate travelled to Utrecht with support from the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (www.holland.com) and Stena Line (stenaline.co.uk). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.